It was already 2020 when many audiovisual professionals recognized the rapid shift in digital conferencing from “desirable” to “necessity.” The Covid-19 pandemic forced people out of their corporate offices and classrooms and into the isolation of their own homes. While lockdowns exacerbated the need for new online conferencing formats, visionaries such as Kai-Fu Lee Ph.D. had already predicted a future with online-merge-offline (OMO)—the eventual seamless integration of our online and offline environments—as early as 2017. Grabbing onto the OMO concept, a team at EZPro International rapidly began development on an advanced training room in their Shenzhen headquarters. The team has focused on introducing an interactive conferencing solution, while creating a highly operable experience through intelligent features and automation.
In development for just under three years, the “telepresence training room” (as officially dubbed by the EZPro team) launched July 8, 2022. The launch event hosted over forty in-person guests, and more than two thousand participants joined the celebration and inaugural training remotely. These attendees included consultants, designers, system integrators, and end users, allowing an array of industry professionals to ask questions in real time and experience the conferencing advancements that have been made since pre-pandemic times. The system was demonstrated by Kane Zhang, EZPro’s CTO of Networked Audiovisual Applications.
The slogan “Don’t teach me, involve me!” was at the heart of the event. Seeing the room launch in real time was a major accomplishment for the team, who view this as the beginning of a new standard for digital conferencing.
This new training environment transforms the traditional conference room into a technological marvel, featuring sound pickup, sound reproduction, video, automatic broadcasting, centralized control, standardized sound calibration, and intelligent AI algorithms. Despite the complex technologies at work behind the scenes, the room is designed for anyone to access, operate, and maintain regardless of their AV knowledge level.
When an instructor or presenter is ready to use the room, they first check in at a digital registration panel outside the entrance. After identifying the user with AI facial recognition, known preferences will automatically be adjusted within the room’s settings. Preferences range from adjusting the conference room temperature to changing the layout of the LED screens. Further, there are a set of automatic adjustments that get applied, such as balancing the presenter’s volume for local and remote audiences. The combination of pre-existing settings and real-time adjustments reduces the set-up time for the users and increases efficiency.
Powering the system is a Symetrix Radius NX 12×8 DSP. Gated automixers are used to identify who is talking into which mic while auto gain control and compressors are used to level the mic and balance the volume. Two Shure 910 ceiling mics seamlessly pick up audio regardless of the location in the room allowing the instructor the freedom to move, speak, and gesture in their natural style even though they are engaging with a dynamic audience.
Dotting the room are five cameras, four of which are pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ), and one AI camera tracks the presenter’s movements with ease. Two of the PTZ cameras are located alongside the 3840×1080 Absen LED in the front of the room, one is mounted in the ceiling, and one is in the back of the room. The AI camera is in the back and designed to track the lecturer while the PTZ camera next to it provides a wide-angle shot. Symetrix Composer™-based Lua Scripting is leveraged to activate camera movements, filter out sudden noise, and avoid unnecessary camera switching. The PTZ cameras at the front of the room enable the online attendees to see the rest of the classroom as well as the front-facing presenter view. The ceiling camera is specifically designed for the white board perspective.
The elegant OMO concept truly comes to life for the online audience in how EZPro leverages old-school and new-school technology to enable the human factor missing in a usual video call. This is illustrated by a unique feature of the automated conference room, the standard whiteboard. The advanced camera switching follows the presenter as they move from the LED screen in the front of the room to the white board on the adjacent wall. Not only does the tracking seamlessly follow the presenter, but it also zooms in so the handwriting of the individual now at the white board can be clearly read by those online. The team at EZPro felt that it was important to design for simple things, like the scribbles on a whiteboard, as they noted keeping a human element in a world that is becoming more automated is key to effective communication.
Behind every mission, there is a visionary blazing the path. For EZPro, that visionary is Kane. He has spent over thirty-five years working in the field. Starting at the age of sixteen, Kane’s tenure in the industry has provided him with a sophisticated perspective on the evolution of the pro-AV industry, but early in his career he faced many challenges trying to expand his knowledge.
“Many people did not want to teach me,” he said. “They had the mindset that their job was at risk if someone new learned their knowledge. They would not let me look over their shoulders to watch them. They told me I would not understand but made no effort to help me understand.”
As a result of these challenges, Kane is committed to taking a completely different approach to sharing the knowledge he has accumulated over his many years in the industry. He believes that knowledge is meant to be shared that no one mind is greater than the knowledge of two combined which is why he begins all his training sessions with the words: Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
Kane is committed to a method of leadership which uses the “inverted pyramid” model. This approach serves as his guidance when specifying projects and means putting the needs of his customers above all. This philosophy was of utmost importance when designing the training facility with the EZPro team.
“The user’s needs determine the application, the application determines the task, the task determines the function, the function is composed of modules, and various solutions are realized through different combinations of modules,” said Zhang. By putting customer needs at the forefront while designing the telepresence training room, the team created modules that are completely scalable to all applicable projects.
“The existing system is suitable for small and medium-sized halls under 300 square meters,” he said, “All modules can easily support larger projects; you only need to replace some specific designs.”
In the face of hardship opportunities inevitably emerge. The opportunity to script the future with a vision to blend high-tech with basic psychological need to be successful in a conference or classroom environment was not missed by EZPro. The resources that EZPro now provides via remote trainings, physical training rooms, and digital tools are not only changing the way that the industry will view corporate conferencing, but how we interact with one another. As our industry looks to the horizon, the OMO concept becomes more important and so does the need to eliminate the frustrating user experiences of traditional classrooms. Leveraging tools and technology to remove the fear of operating a complex system or having to worry about holding a microphone will soon be distractions of the past that allow us to make education more accessible and more humanistic to aspiring professionals and students.